Archive | Life as a Writer

Wrapping Things Up In The Mojave

Ef Coachella. I spent this last weekend out in the desert for a little get-together that’s come to be known, among a select group of revelers, as Great Friday.

There’s a bit of back story here.

Twenty years ago, some friends decided to host a big party for everyone who wasn’t going home to visit family for the Easter weekend – they called it the Good Friday party. The statute of limitations has run out on this one, so I feel pretty safe admitting that there was a lot of drug use. It was quite a thing.

Within a few years the party had gotten pretty big, and the hosts, if you can call them that, had become pretty well-established EDM (in our day we called it “techno”) DJs. So they moved the event to the magical, permissive expanse of the Mojave and turned it into a weekend-long event. I’ll tell you, there is nothing like the way a bass beat echoes over a dry lake bed at dawn. Nothing.

In more recent years, a lot of us have become parents, which made disappearing to the desert for Easter weekend tough, unless you wanted to bring your kids out to that harsh, intoxicated environment (which I didn’t). So a few years ago the event got pushed to the weekend after Easter, and renamed Great Friday.

So that’s how the whole thing started. And now, sadly, I can tell you how it ended.

This weekend was the last Great Friday event. The organizers either have moved away to distant lands or will be moving soon, and without them there’s no music. Without music, it’s just a camp out – which is still fun, but will never be the same.

It seems an interesting coincidence in my mind that this event, which has been such a touchstone for me throughout my entire adult life, is coming to an end as I finish my first novel – a deeply personal story that is set in the Mojave. And why is it set in the Southern California desert? Because I fell in love with the place at these parties. I love the way the full moon paints the landscape in silver light. I love the way the sage bushes squeak as their thick branches blow in the wind. I love the way the light changes as the sun sneaks up on the horizon from the other side of the planet. I love shaking my bootie on a dance floor that stretches for miles. And I love, love, love my rowdy friends, who really are the best part.

I guess that’s life, though. Things change. Twenty years of partying with the same group of friends is a pretty good run. If I have one parting wish, it’s that I have managed to capture just few hints of the magic of the Mojave in my story. I guess only time will tell.

Here are some shots from the weekend:

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Getting Feedback

I finished the draft of Tallulah Jones!

I’m calling it draft 6, but really, it’s been partially revised and rewritten so many times, that’s just an estimate. Daniel, prince among men that he is, read it in five days flat so that we could talk about it on our drive to Morro Bay this last weekend.

As I’ve said before, I think most people should be skeptical if their spouse thinks their work is great, and I don’t doubt that Daniel is at least a little biased, but he is also a creative professional. He works on screenplays and story development all day every day. So when he tells me the work is good, I feel inclined to believe him.

We went camping this weekend with some old friends in central california. It was about four hours to get there, so we downloaded some Roald Dahl books for the kids to listen to, and we talked story. We often take advantage of long drives to give each other feedback, as we don’t get too many opportunities for long, focused conversation these days.

The main push of Daniel’s feedback had to do with ways to emphasize themes, and really think about the overall motivation of characters, specifically my more minor characters. This is very encouraging, as it points toward the rest of the story holding together well over all. The words “page turner” were used.

So that’s exciting. We will need to make a date to go over the specifics of his notes, but it’s nice to feel like I have finally figured out this story. It is shaping up to be a solid debut novel. I don’t think it will ever be the brilliant work of art I had hoped to create, but it’s solid. And I’ve learned so much. It gives me real hope that this second novel, this story I absolutely love, could get up over that hill of greatness. I would be satisfied with that.

Anyhow, we had a lovely time camping, spent some time exploring, and then hanging at the beach on Saturday.

On the drive home we talked out a sticky spot in Daniel’s screenplay. I can’t wait until I get to read it. For all the challenges of being two creative people building a life together (financial, emotional), I feel so very lucky to have a partner who actually gets excited to work with me on a project, and who is such a talented writer in his own right.

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Balancing a Writing Life

Disneyland
I had a great week last week. I got a ton of writing done, I checked off about a dozen items from my long-standing to-do list, and on Friday, we took the kids to Disneyland.

This is the first year we’ve gone in for the annual pass. We bought the cheapest version, which means we can’t go on weekends, or holidays, or pretty much any time in July, but we only have to go three times a year to make the expense worth it. We went once for Daniel’s birthday, once for my sister-in-law’s birthday, and as it turned out, my girl’s school had a teacher work day Friday, and and I don’t start the new job until tomorrow, so it was the perfect opportunity. We have officially made the annual pass worth it. And the kids are the perfect age. The boy is still a little hesitant on some of the bigger rides, but we had a blast.

And now it’s Monday, my last day before starting the new job. I’m a little nervous, and excited. I’m also a little sad to be stepping away from all the writing I’ve been doing, but I’ll still be writing, it’ll just be science writing instead of fiction. And I’ll still have my mornings. I made more progress than I expected to on the novel last week, and I think with another week or two of mornings working on it, I should have a draft before long.

Then there’s the new story. I’m very much wanting to get back to it, but I’m too close on the first novel to drop it. I’m going to at least wrap up this draft, then jump back into Novel #2. Such is the life of a writer, always balancing the demands of story, with the need to make a living. It can be a busy life, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Life As a Full-Time Fiction Writer

Okay, okay, I’m exaggerating a bit. I’m not a full-time fiction writer. Yet. But I still have one more week until I start my new position as a full-time technical writer, and for these two short weeks between jobs, I am happily pretending that I am a professional novelist.

I get up at 5am and do my usual hour and half of writing to start the day, then take the kids to school, come home, get some exercise, take care of some emails, eat something, then write for 3 hours or so before running some errands and picking the kids up from school. There are some variations, depending on the errands that need running, but all in, it’s an awesome life. And it’s all mine for one more week.

Don’t get me wrong, I am actually super excited to start the new job. It’s a perfect match for my skills. I even get my own office, which I’ve never had. I like the people, and they’re doing really interesting work with water management in California, but still…

Still, the dream remains to be a full-time fiction writer.

The novel is coming along well. I made some good progress last week. I don’t think I will be able to finish it this week, but it’s not that far off. I am going to give it all my attention until I get to the point that I can hand it over to Daniel for a read. Then I’ll be back to working on Novel #2. I’m not sure how to refer to Novel #2 here. I have a working title, but it’s not good. I’ll just stick with Novel #2 for now.

So that’s what I’m doing this week. Just loving the life of a writer, for a little bit longer.

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Two Weeks

glendale stationFriday was my last day of work. As I have been working remotely all this time, I had to make my way down to Orange County to return all my company-owned gear: laptop, cell phone, back-up drive, various cords, company credit card, etc. And since it was Friday, and traffic is horrendous heading north into LA on Friday afternoons, I took the train. It was kind of awesome.

Daniel dropped me at the Glendale station, which is a surprisingly lovely little piece of antiquity in the heart of Los Angeles, and instead of cursing my way through four hours of traffic to make the 100 mile trip to Orange and back, I sat back, relaxed, and started re-reading the latest draft of my novel (before I launch into rewrites during my two weeks off).

And that leads me to this week, the first of two weeks where I am unemployed, but don’t have to be looking for work. It’s a first for me. I love it. And, of course, I have totally overbooked myself. I have a whole list of things I hope to get done with this time, from finally finishing a family photo album, to taking the Pilot in for an oil change, but the most important item on the list is to work on the novel.

I’m about half way through reading my most recent draft. The beginning is good. I’m happy with it, but around page 70 it slows. That, I know, is largely due to the fact that I have rewritten and reorganized the middle of the book so many times that the whole middle section is almost like an outline, but at least now everything is in the right place. I hope.

I have struggled so long with this novel. The only real up-side to those struggles is that I have learned an enormous amount about how to actually write a novel. Never again will I just dive in. I have wasted literally hundreds of pages writing down the wrong path. Thus the fifty page outline for the new project. I never thought much of outlines, but I was wrong.

So I hope to finish reading the draft tomorrow. I might have been able to do it today, but I’m taking the afternoon to go to the spa. In addition to celebrating a new chapter in my life, I am rewarding myself for hitting the writing goal I set 4 weeks ago – six mornings a week, 500 words a morning, for four weeks.

Once I finish reading it, I’ll jump into edits. I don’t know how far I can take it in two weeks, but time will tell.

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Starting a New Story

writing spaceAt the end of last year, I was feeling frustrated by my novel, again. I promised myself that if I could push through to the end of the year, then starting January 1, I would start drafting this new idea I’ve been outlining.

I was excited to make the shift, I really was. But I slept in on the first, then it was the weekend, so I didn’t really get started until a week or so into the new year. And once I did actually get started, I struggled. If you follow the blog, you know I have a goal of 500 words a morning, six mornings a week. I get up at 5am and sometimes I’m done super quick. Sometimes it’s like pulling teeth.

The first half of January was like pulling teeth.

My theory is that it’s just been a really long time since I started something new. I just couldn’t hit a stride with it. Then I started oversleeping, missing precious writing time. At one point, I even seriously considered giving up. I told my husband that I was just too tired. Getting up early every day is hard.

He gave me a little pep talk and reminded me that I love writing. That hour and half of fiction writing every morning is what keep me grounded in the fact that I’m not just some hack working in marketing. I am a writer. And so I must write.

Of course, that doesn’t make getting up so early any easier. So I’m bribing myself. Starting this morning, if I can hit my goal of six mornings a week for four straight weeks, I will reward myself with an afternoon at a spa and a massage. Over sleeping is allowed (because honestly it happens some times) as long as I hit my 500 word goal every morning.

I love a good massage. And a good challenge. Hopefully this will help me rebuild the habit and make it easier for me to keep my regular writing time intact. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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Why I Love Instagram

notebookAs I mentioned in my last post, my one goal for 2015 is to start actively taking notes about the world around me. As writers, the one thing we must be is observant, and I think the practice of actively looking and (most importantly) taking notes is critical.

So I found myself a lovely little notebook that fits easily in my purse, and I’ve taken a note on SOMETHING almost everyday. Like everything else in life, I find that the more I do it, the easier it gets – the more I begin to notice things that I need to jot down. It reminds me of the reason I love Instagram.

I’m a social media dabbler. I have a Facebook page, and I sometimes tweet, but my favorite platform by far is Instagram. My love for it developed pretty quickly when I found myself looking for beauty, everywhere I went. I still take the obligatory head-on shots of the kiddos posing arm in arm, but I dig a little deeper when I start to think about how something might look with an interesting filter. I’ll try a different angle, wait patiently for an unusual shot, or set up something in the background to give it depth. And I’m a novice compared to a lot of Instagramers. Truth be told, the results are fun, but it’s the frame of mind that I love the most.

It’s like a much simpler form of my writer’s notebook, which works the same way, insofar as it pushes me to consider things, to look more closely, to try to find the story, but with Instagram, once I’m done, I tap a button and share the moment with my friends. Honestly, I wish all of my friends were on Instagram. It’s the best.

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Tough Mudder Tomorrow!

I gave myself a few mornings off this week. I’ve been training really hard for this race I’m doing tomorrow, and decided that I needed the extra rest to be at the top of my game.

In case you haven’t heard me yammer on about this race yet, let me tell you a little about it. It’s a 10-mile obstacle course with the tag line “quite possibly the toughest event on the planet.” Now, I have no frame of reference for the validity of that claim, but I do know there will be 12 different obstacles, some of which involve electricity, fire, dumpsters filled with ice water and barbed wire. I’ve been training for a long time.

My partner for the race (who also happens to be in my writing group – see how I always bring it back to the writing?) is my friend Alex. She and I just checked into our hotel. It’s a Ramada, so you know it’s pretty nice. It’s 11pm, and way past my bed time, but I’m too excited (nervous?) to sleep yet.

Our start time is 11am. 12 hours to go – yikes. We’re hoping to finish by 4, and I honestly don’t know if that’s optimistic or if we’ll finish way before that.

Daniel and my mom are meeting us back at the hotel with the kids. We decided it wasn’t worth the entrance fee to have to chase them through a crowd of adrenaline junkies. As much as I would have loved to have them at the finish line, I’ll settle for beer and a burger in beautiful downtown Temecula.

So wish me luck.
I’ll post some pictures as soon as I’m able.

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Pages Are Flying

I’ve hit a groove with my early morning writing. My alarm goes off at 5am, it takes me about 10 minutes to get upstairs and make coffee (I move really slowly that early in the morning), and then I write one full page in my journal, which takes about 15 minutes, and then I write for an hour. At 6:30 I head down to get the kids up and in the shower – time to start the day.

Since writing about my blog’s fourth birthday, and reflecting on how I used to write so much more (in basic volume), I’ve tried treating my fiction like I treat the writing I do at my job. I get up when I say I will and just know I have to hit 500 words in an hour. Instead of laboring over the parts I know need polishing, I skim ahead to the section where I actually need new prose and just start writing.

It’s been kind of amazing. 500 words a day, and I’ve been doing it 6 days a week for three weeks now – yes, I’m even getting my lazy butt out of bed on Saturdays. That’s 3,ooo words a week for the math-challenged. At this rate I can absolutely finish this draft before the end of the year. It won’t be perfect, but it will be done, and that fact alone is enough to keep me motivated to get out of bed before the sun comes up.

The pages are flying and it is so very satisfying.

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Remote Working

One of the perks of my job is that I work remotely. I have often said how cool it is that I can take my work with me anywhere, but the truth is I never do. Because if I’m going somewhere it’s usually because I don’t want to be working. I’m am not the girl you see sitting by the pool with her laptop.

Except maybe, this week, I am.

My mom has a show opening at a gallery in the desert this Friday and I really want to go. The party starts at 6 and it’s a 3 hour drive (or 5 in traffic), so it would have meant leaving after lunch and using some vacation time, but instead I’m going to flex my remote-worker muscle.

Our thinking is that we will drive out early in the morning. We will leave at 6am, and by 9am I should be happily settled in to some public place with free wi-fi. Eventually I will be in our hotel room, or even (we’ll see) by the pool. Then, come the end of the day, I will put on my art-show-opening fancies and have a lovely night with my momma.

And then Saturday morning I plan to wake up early enough to work on my novel while I watch the sun come up over the desert. I’ve been dying for some desert time. It’s going to be a great (if short) trip.

Here is a sample of mom’s sculpture. You can see more of her work on her website. 

Laguna

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